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22 May 2015

World’s Strangest Laws

When travelling around the world, it's always a good idea to educate yourself on local traditions and laws. While most laws are based on common sense and the concept of a social contract, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule. Whether strange foreign customs or laws left over from another time, there are lots of weird and wonderful rules out there that no-one should be expected to follow. Let's take a look at some of the world's strangest laws, and try to imagine just how they ever came into existence.

While most things in life manage to move with the times, the law often struggles to keep up. Many of the wackiest laws around the world are based on long lost traditions, some of them so old that no-one can remember why they ever existed. In Milan, it's illegal not to smile, and in Los Angeles, it's illegal to herd more than 3000 sheep down Hollywood Blvd. at any one time. In Britain, it's an act of treason to place a postage stamp bearing the monarch's head on upside down, and in France, it's illegal to name a pig Napoleon.

Also in England, it's illegal to die in the Houses of Parliament, a law that has been named the most absurd in the nation. According to Nigel Cawthorne, author of 'The Strange Laws of Old England', this weird piece of legislation exists for purely pragmatic reasons: "Anyone who dies there is technically entitled to a state funeral... If they see you looking a bit sick they carry you out quickly." Also in England, it's illegal to handle a salmon in suspicious circumstances, or operate a cow while intoxicated, whatever that may mean.

Not all weird laws are based on old forgotten customs, however, some are strange simply due to cultural differences. Since July 2013 in China, it has been illegal for adult children to not visit their parents "often", with sons and daughters also required to attend to their parent's spiritual needs. In ultra-clean Singapore, it's illegal to sell or chew non-medical chewing gum, with an associated fine of $1000 for chewers and possible jail time for sellers. Even pharmacists who sell medical gum can face two years in jail if they forget to ID their customers, with spitting in public also likely to result in arrest. 

Another strange law from recent times comes from Japan, home of sumo wrestling. In 2009, Japanese lawmakers passed the "metabo law", which essentially makes it illegal to be fat. Every man aged over 40 is not allowed to have a waistline over 31 inches, and every woman is not able to measure over 35 inches. This law is policed through an annual mandatory check-up of waist line measurements, with over 56 million waistlines checked each year. In another recent, and extremely worrying law, Vladimir Putin recently made it illegal to tell kids that gay people exist.